Teaopia was a much better concept than Teavana from a customer’s perspective, although the idea for Teaopia was hatched after its founder was lured into a Teavana outlet at a Tampa megamall. With a keen eye for retail trends and a wealth of shopping-mall expertise, Teaopia’s founder took all that was good about Teavana and incorporated it into a Canadian equivalent with significantly better tea.
I joined the team in Toronto about two years after the launch of their first store in Mississauga, Ontario – two zealous Italians and I, hashing it out in the boardroom day after day. That first location was undoubtedly a work in progress and by the time I arrived and opened the Scotia Plaza shop on Bay Street, the design had fortunately evolved in the right direction. I arrived just in time to lend my eye to the blueprints for the newest store. After some brisk discussion, a few of my ideas were incorporated into the design. Scotia Plaza was #5 in the Teaopia chain and in those first few months, we were steeping 350-450 cups of tea to go most days of the week.
In addition to opening new stores, I took on the task of converting all the teas to certified organic and all-natural extracts where possible. I suggested that if there was anything we could do at this stage of our growth that would set us apart it was to offer a tea collection that was 98% certified organic. Of course, in doing this, we increased our costs, so some of that had to be passed on to the consumer. The upside, though, was that we never had to defend our quality, and if ever pressed to do that for a customer, we had our facts straight.
Now that Teavana has swallowed up our Canadian-made brand of tea retailing, customers are left scratching their heads. What happened? Well, a ton has happened. I think almost all 44 Teaopia outlets have had their makeovers now – some of the last ones I presume are out here on the west coast. Make no mistake, though, for anyone who has ever purchased tea at Teaopia and is expecting a similar experience at Teavana, you are in for a bit of a shock. Welcome, tea friends, to the Teavana way to peddle tea to unsuspecting and somewhat gullible mall crawlers.
As one would expect, I have a wide network of tea contacts up here. Since the Teavana buyout, I have heard countless stories of negative experiences customers are having when they enter the “new” Teavana shops. From overfilling tea tins to way more than what was asked to charging the client for the tin without telling them to staff giving erroneous information, the Teavana model of tea retailing has little to do with the promotion of a healthy lifestyle, and much more to do with satisfying the shareholders who anted up their millions.
So up here in Canada, rather then moan and complain, we should just stop shopping there and take our business elsewhere. We go out and support the independents. We inject our tea dollars back into helping local entrepreneurs keep doing what they are passionate about, which is, for better or for worse, advocating for the countless virtues inherent in regular tea consumption. They are here for us and not for some board of directors in a city in another country. Your support allows them to hone their craft and provide you with a better product. If we need a cue from our caffeinated cousin, take a look at local bean roasters. Their followers are passionate and loyal.
So the pushback is happening. Teaopia’s tea offering has noticeably dropped in quality, the in-store sales tactics border on what you expect from a used car salesman, and the information being disseminated stretches the truth about loose tea’s health benefits. I cannot think of one reason why I would ever consider frequenting or even buying tea from a Teavana shop. Welcome to the world of corporatized tea – American style.